A design to live land mine free

2013-06-21 15:05

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Strolling through New York City’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), visitors see masterpieces by artists such as Picasso, Monet and Rothko.

They also might stumble upon something that looks like tumbleweed from outer space.

The object isn’t just a museum-worthy sculpture. It’s Mine Kafon, an innovative wind-powered mine detonator created by 30-year-old Afghan designer Massoud Hassani. Mine Kafon, now on display as a MoMA applied design exhibit.

“It’s funny, though, because it’s not art,” Hassani says. “I’m not an artist.”

The humanitarian organisation Care estimates that land mines kill or maim nearly 26 000 people a year, or about 70 people a day. Hassani says they are a largely forgotten problem, even though there are an estimated 110 million active land mines around the world.

Afghanistan is at the top of the list of countries most affected.

The 70kg Mine Kafon is 190cm in diameter and is hand assembled using bamboo and biodegradable plastics. The pressure of the plastic feet at the end of the bamboo rods detonates land mines as it tumbles across minefields. Hassani designed the device to withstand two to four blasts before being destroyed.

When they were growing up in Afghanistan, Hassani and his brother made toys out of trash and whatever they could find in their village.

His favourite creations were the rolling wind toys they would race and that would often blow into minefields where some of his childhood friends were killed.

After fleeing Afghanistan at 14, Hassani wound his way through Pakistan and Russia before eventually settling in the Netherlands.

Hassani enrolled in a Dutch design academy where Mine Kafon, which means “let the mines explode”, was born. He had designed a lot of small wind toy prototypes based on those from his childhood and joked that he should use them to detonate mines.

Hassani’s teacher thought it was a great idea and encouraged him to develop the project.

“Every product is related to your personality,’’ he says. “Because I had so much experience with these toys and had done so much research, for me it was very easy to make this translation from idea to product.”

The young designer worked with the Dutch military to test early prototypes.

“The first time, it was hard to see it detonated because I spent a lot of time to make the prototype and then it’s gone, boom!’’ he says.

“Usually people make chairs and these kinds of things, and they hang a sign that says ‘don’t touch’. In our case, we blow up the whole prototype.”

The Dutch military discontinued its involvement in the project after a brief period of testing in Morroco’s deserts in 2012, saying the accuracy of Mine Kafon does not yet meet its standards. The military said manual human minesweeping methods, though more dangerous, are more effective. But Hassani says he was encouraged to continue his work.

Common de-mining methods can cost up to $1 000 (R1 070) per mine. Mine Kafon could cost as little as $40 per unit, once the prototype is perfected and industrial production is available. Hassani says Mine Kafon, which can be assembled onsite by the user, would be ideal for use by humanitarian organisations.

To fund development, Hassani launched a 30-day online fundraiser in December 2012. Despite its run over the busy holiday season, mine Kafon raised 20% more than its goal, for a total of $187 000. Hassani says the public’s overwhelming support of the project is a sign that it’s needed.

Future design improvements that Hassani would like to implement include a cylindrical prototype, as well as a motor-powered device that would provide greater control by the user, making it less reliant on uncertain winds. Because the current model is designed only for desert terrain, Hassani wants to develop new prototypes suitable for different landscapes plagued by land mines, for instance those in Vietnam and Angola.

Once Hassani completes the modifications,he will test his new and improved (and much bigger) wind toy later this year where the idea all started: the minefields of his childhood in Afghanistan.

» This story and those like it you will find in City Press this Sunday are part of a global initiative to find clever solutions to some of our planet’s most pressing problems. The first global Impact Journalism Day, driven by Sparknews is tomorrow (June 22) and City Press is the project’s exclusive South African partner.

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